When New Thoughts Conflict with Old Thoughts

Some thoughts about our thoughts, about their relative nature, their complementary nature, and how even seemingly contradictory thoughts may both be valid in a transcendent sense.

A friend asked, “What do you do when new thoughts or ideas conflict with previously logical and accepted thoughts?” Let me share some of my thoughts on that (wink).

One thing I have come to realize, particularly in religion or spirituality, but also in areas of philosophy and science, is that our thoughts and ideas are not absolute. They are never absolute, or totally certain. There is always a margin of error present, uncertainty, a confidence interval, etc.

What we think about God or the Divine or Ultimate Reality or Nature can never be what it really is. They are, at best, symbols, fingers pointing to the moon, but they are not the moon itself. They are Plato’s shadows on the cave wall, not the light that casts them. We error when we take our thoughts to be the reality. They are a map, but never the territory. The word is not the thing. The menu is not the meal.

When we consider our thoughts in this way, it is understandable how thoughts that seem logical and accepted can be replaced or superseded by new thoughts and ideas. The previous thoughts we had were a sign, a symbol, a guide pointing the way, helping us navigate life, which seemed most logical at the time. But because they are not absolute, but relative, they cannot be the final answer. They cannot be the final ultimate truth or reality.

When our understanding grows, when wisdom expands, the symbolic character of our thought may repeatedly become demythologized, and we recognize them in their true nature as symbols, and not the actual reality. And so our thoughts might take a new shape, a new symbolic nature, which more accurately points to the moon, which better represents Reality, which guides us more perfectly toward the Good, toward Love, toward the One.

But these new thoughts are still not absolute. They are not the Reality as it really is. They never ever will be. Ever. This is what I think we must come to recognize. As statistician George Box once said,

All models are wrong, but some are useful.

-George Box

Our thoughts will never be the Ultimate Reality. They can’t be. They are objects of thought, concepts in the mind. They are never the Reality that they seem to represent. They point to that Reality, and that pointing must necessarily always be relative, fallible, imperfect, partial, finite, subjective, etc. Yet even so, they can be helpful guides to us in life, even as a map helps us navigate the territory.

New ideas and thoughts may conflict with the old because they are better ideas. They point better to the Real. Or they may conflict with the old because they are a perspective of the Real from a different direction, or focused on a different aspect of the Real. When we view an object through different lenses or from different directions, we may come up with different ideas of what that object is.

This is the nature of relativity. The very same Reality can appear radically different from different perspectives. Einstein found the same was the case in physics. The simultaneity of events was relative, subjective, based on the motion of the reference frame of the observers.

It is not that those different perspectives are actually contradictory and irreconcilable, but rather it is that because our perspectives are relative and finite; we cannot see the reality from those other perspectives simultaneously. We can only see reality from one perspective at a time. We see through a glass darkly. We have tunnel vision. We see reality through our own particular subjective lenses, which may be just as valid as other perspectives through different subjective lenses.

Or new ideas might be seem contradictory to old ones because they are considering the polarities of reality, the natural dualities or opposites that exist in our lived experience. It is not that one is necessarily more true than the other, but rather we are becoming conscious of the dualities in the world, the polarities of existence. Day is not more true or correct than night. They may seem contradictory or in conflict with each other, but they are simply two different aspects of a singular reality, complementary opposites, the presence of the one is the absence of the other, and vice versa, and thus they are actually unified and interdependent at a deeper or higher level. This is known as the unity of opposites in mysticism.

We may try to allow both ideas concurrently, even if they seem contradictory. This is a nondual approach; it may not be either-or, but both-and. Our minds like to leap to binary solutions, logically this or that, especially when they seem mutually exclusive or incompatible, but the truth may still be found in both. Joseph Smith once said, “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest.”

So many different things may be happening when new ideas conflict with old, even though the old seemed so logical at the time, and perhaps even continues to seem so now. When ideas lead us toward the Good, toward Wisdom, toward Love and compassion, toward Beauty, then they are helpful, they are beneficial, they are practical and useful in life, just like a map navigating territory, they are a good finger pointing to the moon.

But we should not become too attached to any of them. We should perhaps hold thoughts loosely, not as anything absolute, but as possibilities, reflections of the Real, ready to let them go should a better thought come along. We should not mistake the finger for the moon. Our thoughts and ideas will never be the Ultimate Reality. And they may continually be transcended to new insights, higher and higher, expanding to encompass greater and greater realities.

Eventually we may be able to reconcile prior insights with those new insights, including them into our worldview in a new way. As Ken Wilber says, “transcend and include.” We don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but we realize the relative truth in prior perspectives, letting go of the error, and we take that truth with us into the new.

We may continue to transcend and include ideas and thoughts until we arrive at the Real itself that includes them all, which is not an idea or a thought, but that in which all ideas and thoughts appear, the Essence itself, the Truth itself, the Reality itself, the Light that casts the shadows, the Moon itself, the Territory itself, Consciousness itself. This will be the Absolute, without any relativity, without partiality, without imperfection, without fallibility, without error.

What do you think, or not? What do you do when new ideas conflict with old ones that seemed so logical and accepted?

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2 thoughts on “When New Thoughts Conflict with Old Thoughts

  1. In my book I encouraged readers to be realistic:
    “Mysticism is not about you. It is about the ground of existence, the very nature of being itself. If you are just concerned with your own achievement, with escaping your troubles and judge advancement solely in relation to yourself, true divine awareness will elude you. While you cannot transcend your surface self, you cannot reach the absolute and ultimate. You will remain entwined in the temporary and relative. You create your own limitations, even if you prefer not to acknowledge it. “You” is insignificant; beyond you is essential.”

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